Moving through bogs

The Niles, MI Envirothon team at Dayton Wet Prairie

Yesterday we got to step into our local ecological treasure, a rare wet prairie. It was the prairie’s annual “open house,” when a botanist leads a tour into the fragile terrain. The conservation group doesn’t want the general public traipsing through just any day but that’s not much of a problem since the 40 acres of the preserve flank a little-used dirt road and the prairie itself is, well, wet. The ground is squishy. Jump on it in your rubber boots and it bounces.

We followed botanist Bob and a very well-informed group of high school students a little way into the wetland and were introduced to some of the more obscure members of the ecosystem, from sharp rice grass to the last blooming fringed gentian. The students are thrilled with a plan to close up a ditch that had been struck through the prairie years ago. The idea is to return more natural flooding to the area. Combined with an imminent burn, the project may restore the prairie to a more natural state. We can watch this happen in coming weeks and years. It was a good day.

It reminded me of this month in my personal life, a combination of treading carefully and taking decisive actions that feel like the equivalent of flooding and burning. Will these moves clear out the invasive fears and distractions? Will new growth be sturdy, natural, harmonious? There will be changes.

Last week, between making Earth First orchard’s last bushel of organic seconds into applesauce and hosting our annual fall party for city friends, I finished a book.

This is a book I thought I would never finish. I have been trying to tell this story, in one form after another, intermittently, for 14 years. That makes it sound monumental. It is not. It is a small story, fragile as a boggy ecosystem. The problem has been understanding it well enough to tell it. It has been a challenge of capturing, describing, defining something that defies linear storytelling conventions because it is all about connections.

I thought I had given up on it. I set it aside nearly two years ago, feeling utterly defeated. I did not want to look at the manuscript ever again, but I discovered several weeks ago that it was still wearing a hole in my heart. And so last week, on a warm, sunny day, I took the manuscript to the most beautiful place in the neighborhood, high up on a dune overlooking Lake Michigan, and dared myself to read it one last time. Dared. It took a lot of courage to face my own inadequacy as a writer.

The astonishing thing was, I began to love the story again, and the way I had told it. It stood up to the natural beauty around me. I saw that it was almost finished. It needed one last trim and some minor shifts, which I did in a few hours later in the week.

I will not say more about it now because releasing it into the world depends on a number of considerations, which I am wading through at the moment, jumping lightly on the bog to test the reverberations. But for the first time in all my attempts to tell this story, I have told it to my own satisfaction.

I feel cleaned out, flooded, burned, ready for the next creative project.

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